October 1, 2014

For The Holidays

Robert W. Tolf | 11/1/1995
Holiday time approaches, and it's not too early to begin planning just where you want to celebrate. Walt Disney World, of course, offers a bevy of banquets and special menus at its many restaurants and resort hotels, each theme-decorated to the hilt. There's an Old West holiday theme at the new Wilderness Lodge; at Victorian Victorious at the Grand Floridian, the top-of-the-line Victoria & Albert room features $100-per-person Chef's Table dinners for a maximum of six patrons who can chat between bites with super chef Scott Hunnel.

Think of all the presents you can buy while alternating meals with Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, complete with tree-lighting ceremonies (Dec. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 14 and 15). Plan one evening at the newly renovated Contemporary Resort where Jolly Holiday dinner shows, featuring all-you-can-eat feasts with turkey and all the trimmings, are staged from Nov. 26 through Dec. 21. There are all kinds of packages and special seating tickets. Contact Guest Information 407/824-4321.

Fort Lauderdale, home of the world famous Winterfest boat parade on Dec. 9, launches its holiday season the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving on Las Olas Boulevard, which is closed for the celebration. Carolers, bell ringers, band members and 10,000 revelers find fine food in the many restaurants on the reborn boulevard of no regrets.

Other venues for Florida holiday happenings that I recommend:


Le Dome Of The Four Seasons
305/463-3303
333 Sunset Dr.
Fort Lauderdale

In addition to the usual Danish accents chef Johnny Kromann breathes into his continental specialties, on Christmas Day he prepares Danish honey-roasted duck. He serves it with the obligatory sweet and sour red cabbage, caramelized potatoes and poached apple. And for dessert, what else but Danish almond-rice pudding with cherry sauce?

Sea Watch
305/781-2200
6002 N. Ocean Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale

I go here year-round for the consistent performance by staff in the back room and the front, and the sensational nautical memorabilia and oceanfront setting. It becomes truly magical during the holidays with strings of thousands of tiny lights, several fully decorated Christmas trees and a display of hundreds of poinsettias.

Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort
305/525-4000
3030 Holiday Dr.
Fort Lauderdale

Celebrate New Year's Eve here with continuous live entertainment and dancing, open cocktail service and a terrific end-of-the-year dinner of peppercorned filet mignon and lobster Thermidor, climaxed by double chocolate terrine and raspberry coulis. After dinner, watch the ball go down at Times Square on a pair of giant 12-foot screens. The cost is $110 per person including tax and tip. Children 5 to 16 have their own celebration beachside for $45.

Yesterday's
305/561-4400
3001 E. Oakland Park Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale

This landmark is on the Waterway, truly a wintertime wonder with its five miles of holiday lights - 200,000 of them. A Christmas Eve buffet is served from noon to 8, featuring turkey, steamship round of beef, seafood and all the extras.Christmas Day brings more feasting and if you have a hankering for roast goose, pheasant and ultra elegance, reserve on the top deck in the Plum Room, where dining is a la carte and averages $40 per person. The buffet is $19.95.

Damiano's At The Tarrimore House
407/272-4706
52 North Swinton
Delray Beach

Serenaded by a strolling accordionist playing traditional Italian Christmas songs, diners at this reborn memory bank start their Buon Natale blessings with baccala and focaccia fennel along with warm octopus and fried calamari, followed by clams, lobster, mussels, mutton snapper and shrimp mingled with sweet onions and roast garlic reposing on a bed of garlic-infused linguine with a mild tomato basil sauce. The finale includes baby chocolate-covered cannoli filled with ricotta and fresh raspberries, Venetian apple trifle and baked struffoli drizzled with orange blossom honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar. All that on Christmas Eve for $35 per person.

Crab Pot's Old House
407/533-5220
300 E. Ocean Ave.
Lantana

Florida's oldest waterfront restaurant used to serve special holiday menus of turkey, ham and the trimmings, but learned that their customers wanted the old standbys: steamed shrimp, garlic crabs, catfish, lobster. They also wanted to see that model train set near the entrance and the foyer Christmas tree decorated by physically challenged children.

Carolers come by Christmas Eve, and the annual Lantana Christmas Parade marches right past on Dec. 19. The Old House's Captain Bob and crew are out in front serving from their wassail bowl and cookie chests. Entrees range from $10 to $16.

Beauclaire
904-383-4101
l00 N. Alexander
Lakeside Inn St.
Mount Dora

"What once was, still is" at this time warp. With vintage Victorian decorations, Beauclaire features richly decorated trees and special menus presenting all the favorites. Among the package deals to consider is the two-night getaway with evening eggnog party, gifts from Santa, Christmas Day buffet - $348 for two.

Chalet Suzanne
941/676-6011
3800 Chalet Suzanne Dr.
Lake Wales

This unique escape has packages for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's centered, of course, on the glorious food. But there also are such extras as antique carriage rides and tours of the estate, now on the National Register of Historic Places. I like the Swedish pancake breakfasts and the hoppin' John (black-eyed peas cooked with hog jowls) climax to the New Year's Eve festivities. A three-day, two-night getaway is $499, tips included.

Hans' Bistro
904/249-0949
1728 North Third St.
Jacksonville Beach

For 14 years, the Kaunath clan has held forth in this chunk of the old country churning out the continental classics. On Christmas Eve that means roast goose with all its trimmings - red cabbage and dumplings. Wunderbar!

Old City House Inn & Restaurant
904/826-0781
115 Cordova St.
St. Augustine

Christmas is special enough, in a New England kind of way, but Thanksgiving is when Darcy and John Compton really make headlines, preparing whole birds and total family-style feasts complete with choice of apple, mincemeat or pumpkin pies or chocolate cake, served with a large bowl of real whipped cream. Each turkey is individually carved at table by chef John and all leftovers, carcass included, are boxed with guest's name.

It's the best of all possible worlds, and the Comptons have been doing it ever since they opened in 1990. Last year, 68 whole turkeys were ordered and the kitchen prepared another 25 for individual portions. Extra packers are brought in to put it all together after the meal and send it off with the grateful customers. It's a logistical miracle as the Comptons supervise and serve their extended family.

The Ritz-Carlton
904/277-1100
Amelia Island

The catering service prepares a Thanksgiving feast for four that goes for $90. Package rates for this most upscale way to observe the holidays cover Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

The Thanksgiving package includes such extras as horse-drawn sleigh rides on the beach, dinners, boxes of gourmet goodies and a family photograph. Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrive on Nov. 25, and there's a Saturday-night Santa turn down and tuck in for the kids. Take main meals in the Grill or the Cafe. Served in the ballroom, the Thanksgiving buffet (with family portrait, kids dessert table and coloring station) is $36 for adults and $16 for children under 12 (no charge for under three). The New Year's Eve Gala boasts a concert by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, buffet luncheon, reception, dinner and dancing, and a New Year's Day brunch. The Grill has its own end- of-the-year agenda, and for the children there's The World's Smallest New Year's Eve Party. Package rates vary but one to consider most seriously is the Resolution Weekend Benefiting Body, Heart and Soul: the fitness staff will work you over after a motivational seminar and compilation of your personal get-in-shape portfolio.

The Peabody
407/352-4000
9801 International Dr.
Orlando

Throughout the holiday season, tour-bus travelers from all over Florida flock to the Peabody to marvel at how its halls are decked. Both the Dux and the strikingly designed Capriccio restaurants, under the direction of executive chef Karl Edlbauer, feature special holiday menus. Dinners in Dux will cost about $45 per person and in Capriccio about $25.


Marina Cafe
904/837-7960
404 Hwy. 98 East
Destin

Executive chef-partner Tim Creehan, who first introduced wild game to the area, does a great mixed grill of boar, buffalo, birds and venison, and promotes breast of pheasant as low-fat diet food. His Thanksgiving treats begin with a choice of chicken-sausage gumbo or bisques made with seafood or crawfish, mushrooms and pumpkin.

If you aren't game for all that, try the roast turkey with celery-garlic enhanced mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, cranberries and sweet potatoes, followed by pumpkin cheesecake or sweet potato-pecan pie. The price is $20. Last year they set records, feeding close to 400.

There's also a crowd for chef Creehan's New Year's Eve four-course dinner with complimentary champagne, followed by dancing in the lounge. Early seatings are an all-inclusive $65 per person; later the charge is $80.

Jubilee Restaurant & Entertainment Complex
904/934-3108
400 Quietwater Beach Rd.
Pensacola Beach

There are 24,000 square feet of holiday decorations in this rambler with each of the five spaces theme-designed: Caribbean in the Beachside Cafe, for example, and in the fine dining Topside, a scene that includes a giant tree made with dried branches painted white and festooned with thousands of lights. It's a great place to be for the local celebration called Christmas on the Island, with parades on land and water and tree lightings, and food for all palates and pocketbooks, during the first weekend in December. The New Year's Eve party is a circus-theme event featuring characters such as Ravioli the clown.

McGuire's Irish Pub
904/433-6789
600 East Gregory St.
Pensacola

There's so much green in this quintessential pub - including all those greenbacks stuck on the walls - it's a real treat to see red. Red bows and red poinsettias are everywhere during the holidays. It's also a treat to take a break from all the Irish music to listen to Crosby & Co. croon Christmas oldies. There are no special menus or flocks of turkeys being carved out back, but brewmaster Steve Fried does concoct a most pleasurable Christmas Ale with ginger, cinnamon and lots of respect.

Golden Spoon Awards
Florida Trend is now accepting nominations for the 1996 Golden Spoon Awards, the magazine's annual recognition of Florida's finest restaurants. Fill out the ballot that appears on page 99 of this issue and return it to Florida Trend no later than Wednesday, December 20.

In the February issue, Florida Trend will publish the names and descriptions of the 20 Golden Spoon Award winners, the 20 Best Newcomer restaurants and the magazine's annual listing of the Top 200 Florida restaurants.

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